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Shawabty of Queen Madiken

Napatan Period, reign of Aspelta
593–568 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 27, Rooms A and B


Overall: 18 x 5.2 cm (7 1/16 x 2 1/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty of Queen Madiken. The female figure wears the queen’s vulture headdress over the tripartite wig. Normally, the arms are not crossed, the hands are opposed. On this figure, the arms are not crossed and the hands are positioned right above left. In each hand the figure holds a hoe. In addition the left hand holds a cord to a seed bag which is slung over the left shoulder. There are seven horizontal lines of incised text encircling the body. The text is framed and there is a blank column up the center of the back dividing the back of the text. The text is painted black. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The cartouche is correct for Madiken, but there is a line up the front center of the text. There are no lines on the seed bag. The face is finely detailed. The left arm is chipped and there is a small chip above the text on the right. The text on the front of the figure is worn.

The ancient Nubians included shawabtys in their tombs only in the Napatan Period, about 750–270 B.C. These funerary figurines are based on Egyptian shawabtys, but differ from them in many features of their iconography. For instance, the known Nubian examples are only from royal tombs. Also, they have unique texts, implements, poses and are known to have the largest number of shawabtys included in one tomb. Their function, it is assumed, was the same as that of the Egyptian shawabty, namely to magically animate in the Afterlife in order to act as a proxy for the deceased when called upon to tend to field labor or other tasks. This expressed purpose was sometimes written on the shawabty itself in the form of a “Shawabty Spell,” of which versions of various lengths are known. Shorter shawabty inscriptions could also just identify the deceased by name and, when applicable, title(s). However, many shawabtys carry no text at all. The ideal number of such figurines to include in a tomb or burial seems to have varied during different time periods.


From Nuri, found in Pyramid 25, but originally from Pyramid 27 (tomb of Queen Madiken) Rooms A and B. 1918: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition